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November 20, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines

Civil War Spies, Raiders and Guerrillas
Wilmer L. Jones, PhD. - ISBN - 9780878331918

This is an interesting, "fun read," highlighting several well known Civil War combatants beside a larger group of lesser lights: people prominent locally or regionally perhaps, but people outside the purview of the average reader. Further, it deals with activities not widely reported. As such there is remarkable information which, while not trivial, is certainly beyond the awareness of most of us, and likely more than a few Civil War buffs.

It was curious to find chapters about the Southern cavalry greats Mosby and Stuart, and lesser knowns including Ashby and Gilmor, with nary a mention of Sheridan or any northern horsemen. Perhaps those Yankees never made it to the south? Or "behind enemy lines?"

Reminiscent of the New York Times in recent decades, Jones comments that "Had Confederate commanders placed spies on the staffs of their adversaries, they probably would not have had any better information than that supplied by the Northern press." (In fairness, the press at the time was not malicious. Rather, it just distributed news fit to print; comprehensively, albeit imprudently.) As well, he informs that early in that era spying was considered ungentlemanly and beneath the dignity of honest combatants, though that position changed later in the war. The first to implement "all out war" were the Confederates, having determined it would require this compromising step to have any chance of winning.

His discussions of the irregulars and the guerrillas emphasize that these combatants were incredibly vicious--well beyond the pale at times--and strenuously criticized by both Confederate and Union commanders. Indeed, many were derided and decommissioned, though they seldom quit fighting and couldn't really be disciplined.

Along the way there are discussions of support by the citizenry, many of whom suffered as a result of their support, though many were driven to it by the activities of the adversaries: burning and looting, even rape and murder of non-combatants, including women and children. Several chapters are devoted to the recantation of the activities of the most famous of these brigands.

Discussions of the Pinkertons--already prominent as a result of their railroad activities--are also of interest. They became quite famous as a result of their war contributions; even more so after the war with the blossoming of the Quantrill, James and Younger "gangs" of robbers. These, too, along with a few additional miscreants are discussed in interesting if abbreviated detail.

The book is well written and rather unusual. While it's not about seminal details, neither does it dabble in the arcane.

Posted by Curmudgeon at November 20, 2010 4:06 PM